“Camp Kent is more fun than visiting Disney World,” Bianca, then 10, declared the last day of Kent Park and Recreation’s summer day camp in Kent, Conn.
What is it about our day camp that evokes such a feeling in a town youngster? Located on a 100-acre tract of land in rural northwestern Connecticut, the camp offers simple fun where children can play and create in a safe environment.
Camp Kent is an eight-week summer program that runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; it accepts only 24 youngsters each week. The camp is run by a director and two counselors with oversight from the park and recreation director.
Each day, campers and staff members play sports or games, complete arts-and-crafts projects, and spend much of the afternoon swimming and playing in the beach sand. The local children’s librarians visit the camp each Thursday at noon for story hour, which is open to the public. Sometimes local “celebrities” are invited to visit camp as well.
Youngsters bring their own snacks and lunch, often eaten while sitting on beach towels on the lawn. Each Friday, staff members barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs—a camp favorite. Parents donate juice boxes, fruits, chips, and desserts.
Capture Their Attention
Themes are selected for each week. The most popular is “Survivor Week,” and there often is a waiting list for this activity. The staff creates two teams of campers that head into the wooded area surrounding the camp where they build forts using only sticks and twigs that they have collected. The teams and their camp counselors pose for pictures inside their fort, which each team believes is the better one. Some campers even bring their parents to see the forts.
Another favorite camp theme is holiday week when the youngsters make spiders using chenille sticks and yarn that are hung in our barn-style building. During one day that week we also celebrate everyone’s birthday by decorating cupcakes and charting the individual’s birth month, day, and age. The charts illustrate which weekday, date, and month are the most popular to be born.
Keep It Simple
The youngsters also look forward to the yearly tie-dye activity where they create their own T-shirt design by twisting and folding white shirts and securing them with rubber bands, after which they squirt the shirts with an assortment of red, blue, green, yellow, purple, and orange dye. (The fun part for us is seeing the youngsters wearing the shirts throughout the year.)
Other annual traditions include morning card games, Capture the Flag, the weaving of embroidery floss into necklaces, bracelets and anklets, the annual sandcastle-building contest, boat building, and passing the deep-water test.
One way we measure the success of our camp program is observing youngsters who are new to the program. We typically enroll grandchildren of town residents, as well as youngsters who recently moved to town or who live in a neighboring community.
I watch how these children adapt. Are they having fun? Have they made new friends? Do they sit with other campers at snack and lunch? Are they building sandcastles with someone during swim time? What is the feedback from their parents?
Kent Park and Recreation’s formula for a successful summer day-camp program is that simple is better. Give children a safe place to play, and allow for creative expression and time to share their day with friends, old and new. Add a caring, cohesive, and dedicated staff, and you have a great summer program, one where campers and staff alike want to return year after year.
Lesly Ferris is the Director of the Kent Park and Recreation Department in Kent, Conn. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.